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books and reading

Sorrowland

Title: Sorrowland

Author: Rivers Solomon

Genre: Black science fiction

Thank you Netgalley for this book!

Holy smokes this book. I have already read An Unkindness of Ghosts and The Deep, so I am familiar with Rivers Solomon’s genre-bending style. I discovered them in last year’s PopSugar challenge for the “author who is trans or non-binary” prompt, so I’m using Solomon’s preferred pronouns of they/their. I am so thankful I stumbled upon their work because all their books have been outstanding. And seriously, thank you to Netgalley for letting me have this one. I was so excited to read it.

From Goodreads: Vern – seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised – flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.

But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.

To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future – outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.

So, this book isn’t at all what I thought it would be. I should have known not to expect “traditional” when it comes to a book written by Solomon. I was thinking it would be a story about a woman escaping a cult and struggling with the outside world. It is that, of course, but so SO much more. Vern begins to notice that her body is stronger than it should be. She doesn’t tire as quickly and can heal herself. By the time she realizes this, she knows she has to figure out why.

Vern’s journey takes her to people who are kind and helpful, and she finds a home, of sorts. Her children are protected, while Vern can search for answers. And those answers, whew, they are pretty crazy. And so terrible. I had no idea where this book was going once Vern left the woods, but the story just becomes richer and richer as the story unfolds. What a fantastic, important adventure.

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books and reading

The Deep

Title: The Deep

Authors: Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes

Genre: Black science-fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: A book set mostly or entirely outdoors.

The concept of this book is just so cool. Rivers Solomon heard the song “The Deep” by the band clipping. and was so moved that they wrote this novella in response. You can find the lyrics and a clip (pun intended) of the song here. I wanted to listen to the song before I read the book so I could be in the same frame of mind that Solomon was. And the song was really familiar. I’m a big Hamilton fan, so I knew Diggs had a rap group, but I’ve never listened to any of the songs. When I read the Afterword, I realized that clipping. wrote the song for an episode of This American Life. That’s when the light bulb went off. I heard that episode. It’s an excellent one about Afrofuturism. Here’s a link.

From Goodreads: Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

I’m not a fantasy/sci-fi person at all. It’s my least favorite genre. Well, romance is way worse. But I read An Unkindness of Ghosts last year, and I have Solomon’s newest, Sorrowland, from Netgalley to read, so I wanted to read The Deep as well. The concept is kind of like The Giver where one person holds the past memories of the community, but that’s where the similarities end. Yetu is trying to find who she is deep down and ends up making connections where she least expects it. This book was great. I love that it’s inspired by a song, because music and lyrics can truly be powerful. This book was impactful and will stick with me for awhile.

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books and reading

An Unkindness of Ghosts

I love Octavia Butler. Her books are just brilliant sci-fi. Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are her best. The second is prophetic. She speaks of a president who wants to make America great again. Seriously. Kindred tells the story of a black woman who mysteriously time travels back to the days of slavery. And the Xenogenesis series is her most sci-fi book in which humans meet aliens. All this said, when I see a book blurb that compares the novel to one by Butler, I’m in.

At some point, this book came on my radar for the above mentioned comparison. While doing my research for the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I discovered that Rivers Solomon is non-binary, which was one of the categories I needed to fill. I was curious of their non-binary status would impact their writing. And I was right. This book isn’t just a great sci-fi book, it also places non-binary characters into a world where their status is simply the norm.

The story follows Aster who lives on a ship in space. The ship has been traveling from decimated Earth for over 300 years. The lower parts of the ship are for the Black people who do the manual labor. The white people are essentially aristocrats who live on the upper decks of the ship. Aster is the Surgeon’s assistant, so she commands a tiny bit of respect, but she’s also outspoken and angers Guards a lot. She doesn’t fit in well anywhere. She’s methodical, logical, unemotional, and just says things point-blank. She’s endearing, though, and you cheer for her from the beginning.

As Aster uncovers more secrets about the ship and her dead mother, the story unfolds, and the story takes you down a path of revolution. Aster knows the system has to change, how unfair her life and the lives of her friends is, and she knows she must overthrow the regime. Aster is a fantastic character, and I loved this powerful novel.